If you are an active reader of online health blogs or printed wellness magazines, chances are, you have come across the term “intermittent fasting” during the past few years. Perhaps you have wondered what this term actually means, whether it’s another fad diet or a reliable weight loss method to help reach your goals. Intermittent fasting for women has its own challenges.
The good news is, you are not alone.
Recently, I have been at the same spot in my life. Frustrated with my dozens of failed efforts to get in shape after giving birth to my youngest, my mid-section spread under my proportionally increasing jeans size, and my apparent inability to stick with any conventional or popular diet long-term, I just knew that I had to tackle fat loss, once and for all.
To be perfectly honest, the idea of intermittent fasting didn’t sound too appealing to me. Throughout my life, I have been under the impression that it’s better to eat small, frequent meals. It would keep my metabolism happily chugging along. To be hungry and skip meals regularly didn’t sit right with me. It didn’t seem possible either, being a busy mom and spending countless hours in the kitchen each day to prep meals for my family.
Still, seeing my apparent lack of weight loss success, I just knew that something had to give. I decided to at least educate myself about the benefits of fasting periodically since so many famous food gurus and fitness personalities seemed to claim that intermittent fasting may be the Holy Grail of weight loss.
Amazingly, the information I’ve learned over time practically changed my life. However, before I share some of my own successes thanks to my new discovery, let’s take a closer look at what intermittent fasting truly is, how to do it, and why it is so important to follow sound scientific advice to avoid several common pitfalls on your journey.
What Is Intermittent Fasting?
As the name suggests, intermittent fasting simply refers to periods of time when you don’t eat. Hopefully creating a caloric deficit, and eventually, weight loss. It is not a diet, rather, a rhythmically changing pattern of feasting and fasting. You don’t restrict your food intake during your scheduled meal times. And not consuming anything for a certain set number of hours (or days) in-between.
The benefits? Experts’ opinion suggests, intermittent fasting not only helps with getting rid of the unwanted excess pounds, but it also targets our stubborn fat layers. Also supporting the increase of muscle mass, offering the opportunity to recompose the body completely.
During the hours of fasting, blood glucose, insulin, and triglyceride levels drop. This may help to get rid of inflammations and chronic diseases, rebalance hormones, and completely transform the digestive system to become more efficient. Leading to a new, healthier, and more trim body with a speedy metabolism.
Sounds too good to be true?
That was my first thought, as well. However my interest was piqued. As it turns out, intermittent fasting comes in many shapes and sizes. Just about anyone can find a variation that suits their physical needs, lifestyle, and health goals. As a result, I figured, there was nothing to lose except some unwanted body fat, of course, and I decided to put these fabulous claims to the test by picking a fasting method that would fit my lifestyle.
What Are the Different Types of Intermittent Fasting?
Glad you’ve asked! Take a look at the more common ways of intermittent fasting and see which type may fit into your busy schedule.
The 16/8 Method
This is one of the most popular types of intermittent fasting. After a sixteen-hour long fasting period, you are allowed to feast for eight hours. You usually consume two very large or three smaller meals. Outside of the window available for eating you can only drink fluids that do not have calories. This restriction also applies to zero-calorie drinks made with various sweeteners since some of them are capable of raising your blood insulin levels even though they don’t have calories. This can be adapted to 18/6 or even 20/4 if you can do it (see #6 The Warrior Diet)
The 14/10 Method
The 14/10 method is a modification of the 16/8 method, specifically fitting to women’s unique needs. After fourteen hours of fasting, you have a ten-hour window to eat all your food for the day. As you will see later in detail, there are distinct advantages involved in choosing this method for women, as shorter periods of fasting are more likely to get those desired results.
The 5:2 Method
If you choose this method you can eat as you normally would for five days each week. On the remaining two days your calorie intake needs to be no more than 500-600 calories per day (fewer for women, more for men.) Ideally the two fasting days are spaced out during the week.
This is similar to the 5:2 method. In the case of the eat-stop-eat method, you need to cycle between normal eating days and a day or two of fasting per week. The difference is fasting here means your calorie intake has to be zero on these days.
The Alternate-Day Fasting Method
Here, you commit to fasting every other day. Eat a normal amount of food on the first day and eat up to 500 calories on the next. Some variants of this method promote not eating anything at all on fasting days. That is a tall order to live up to, especially for beginners.
The Warrior Diet
Finally, this method is all about enjoying a large meal every night while eating all but nothing during the day. It is based on the eating pattern of warriors who would feast at night. You fast for about 20 hours with the possible exception of organic vegetables or berries during the fasting period.
As you might have guessed, all types of intermittent fasting are not equal when it comes to hunger levels, commitment, enduring uncomfortable side effects, and positive, fat-burning results. Especially for us, women. In order to choose the best and most efficient method, we must understand how female physiology works. We will take a look at just that, in the following section.
Why Things Are Different When It Comes to Intermittent Fasting for Women
Simply put, women’s bodies are far more sensitive to the adverse effects associated with fasting than men. In a practical sense, this means that we can’t just stop eating and begin losing weight as simply and effortlessly as most men can. In fact, our whole dieting effort can backfire on us in the long run.
Blame the two main hunger-regulating hormones, leptin and ghrelin. What exactly do they do? Read on to find out more!
What Do the Hormones Leptin and Ghrelin Do?
Your fat cells create leptin, the hormone that signals when you feel full after consuming a satisfying meal. On the other hand, ghrelin sends signals to your brain when you are hungry, increasing your appetite.
Under normal circumstances, your sensation of feeling hungry increases your ghrelin levels. As a result, you eat your meal, at which point your leptin levels rise. This signals your brain that you have had enough food. The result? Your metabolism is running like a well-oiled machine, while sporting a fit body with minimal or no excess pounds.
When fasting too long, this perfect system can quickly fall out of balance for women. Leading to a completely messed up hormonal response in the form of a lack of proper leptin and ghrelin response. This makes you hungry even after eating a large meal. Your brain does not accurately perceive the amount of food that you have consumed. As we all know, this seems to be the direct path to regular binge-eating, eating disorders, and packing on even more pounds.
Speaking of binge-eating and further weight gain, the truth is, leptin and ghrelin are only part of the story. Any strain on your body causes a stress hormone response too, adding insult to injury. It becomes even more challenging to keep to a sensible diet and lose fat. Let’s see how this stress hormone, cortisol, can further damage your body when fasting inappropriately.
What Does Cortisol Do to the Body? And Why Is It Important Information When Deciding How to Do Intermittent Fasting?
Here’s another reason you should always follow a suitable intermittent fasting plan. As a woman, when you don’t receive food at regular intervals, your body experiences a significant amount of stress. Stress leads to the rise of cortisol, the primary stress hormone, in your bloodstream. Aside from many of its harmful side effects, the main culprit in our case is that this stress response raises blood sugar levels. Along with the wish to snack and take in more calories than necessary. Essentially undoing all the positive effects of fasting.
Once again, your best bet is to create lifestyle changes slowly, without disrupting your normal bodily functions and hormone creation. It absolutely can be done, but you must be diligent. In the next section, we will take a look at the most useful modifications to intermittent fasting to use as a woman.
How to Avoid Messing Up My Hormones, as a Woman, When Fasting?
As a woman, you should pay extra attention to your hormonal balance. Shocking your system with unexpected and severe changes could cause stress and strain to your body. Being mindful of just how harmful such sudden disruptions could be for you is crucial on this journey. Especially if you choose to commit to intermittent fasting as a lifestyle.
First of all, this should mean that you forget about popular fat loss methods and celebrity diets that are promising a super-fast success. Your goal should be a slow but steady recomposition of your body while revamping your lifestyle in ways that are sustainable and safe for you to follow for many years to come.
Second, let’s take a look at all the more popular types of intermittent fasting mentioned above. It is now clear why those more extreme fasting methods are not your best friend if you want to keep up your ideal hormonal and metabolic health.
What Are the Best Tweaks to Intermittent Fasting for a Woman?
Intermittent fasting, when done in a female hormone-friendly way, can be an excellent way to shed excess pounds. If you want to hone in on your greatest success, experts suggest women keep to the following guidelines:
- If fasting daily, fast for shorter periods of time at once, no more than 14-15 hours per day
- Do not fast on two consecutive days, especially if you are a beginner
- You should fast no more than one to two 24-hour periods per week
- Drink plenty of fluids, such as water, herbal teas, and even bone broth (it includes minimal calories)
- Avoid exercising on fasting days, do light activities instead, such as walking, swimming, or stretches
Fortunately, several experts have recognized women’s different needs when it comes to weight loss. Nowadays, there are several methods of intermittent fasting, specifically geared towards women. I will explain a few of these that you might find useful, below.
What Are the Types of Intermittent Fasting Specifically Designed for Women?
Let’s take a look at the most popular intermittent fasting options and trends for women. You should use your own judgment and common sense, plus a bit of desire and willingness to experiment until you find what works best for your body.
- The 14/10 Method: fasting for fourteen hours and eating in the following ten, every day
- The Crescendo method: similar to the 14/10 method, but you can’t fast more than three, evenly spaced days each week
- The modified Eat-Stop-Eat method: fast for no more than one 24-hour period each week, from dinner to dinner
Try to see which type of intermittent fasting works best for your body over a set time. Remember, the goal is always to feel better within the first couple of weeks. Give a chance to fasting to begin working and don’t jump from one method to another if you don’t see results within a few days.
Is Intermittent Fasting for Women Safe All the Time?
A fundamental question! As you’ve seen, if done incorrectly, intermittent fasting is not only not going to yield your desired outcome, but it could potentially create hormonal havoc, as well.
It is important not to start intermittent fasting if you are:
- Pregnant, could be pregnant or planning to be pregnant soon
- Nursing a baby
- Undergoing a chronic level of stress in your life
Final Thoughts on Intermittent Fasting and My Weight Loss Success
Earlier I have promised to talk about my weight loss success with intermittent fasting. After reading this article, you can understand why I found it important to introduce you to the correct way to fast as a woman.
With the help of intermittent fasting, I have shed my mid-section bulge, recomposed my body, and dropped several dress sizes within a year. More importantly, I have been able to keep up my current weight by sticking to the fasting routine that seemed to work the best for me, after some trial and error.
Based on my results, science, and its incredible popularity, I believe that intermittent fasting can be indeed the Holy Grail of weight loss when done properly. I also fully believe that your weight loss story can be every bit as much of a success story as mine using this method.
Remember, however, that success comes in many shapes and sizes. After having a better understanding of the science of weight loss for women, my view on the victory over those unwanted excess pounds changed.
Commit to recomposing your body and get rid of the excess fat slowly without messing up your hormones. That will inevitably lead to more yo-yo dieting further down the road. Allow your body naturally fall into the new habit of fasting without stressing it beyond its current limitations.
At the end of the day, a more stress-free, healthier, and trimmer body is the goal we all aim for. As a woman, intermittent fasting might just end up surprising you by offering you all the above. Plus an entirely new lifestyle with a lot more time available to actively enjoy your new physique, instead of endless hours of meal prep in the kitchen!